NOT MANY CAN BEND THE RULES LIKE BECK­HAM

$s tk­ou­sangs lose tkeir affess to le­gal aig 'ayig %EFNKAP Zalns azay Zitk­out a sseeg­ing fine ă it’s grossly un­fair

The Gulf Today - - FOCUS - BY JANET STREET-PORTER

The smug grin on the face of mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man David Beck­ham ar­riv­ing in Paris the other day could turn out to be an own goal. The for­mer foot­balling leg­end has just man­aged to avoid a con­vic­tion for speed­ing in Lon­don – even though he ad­mit­ted driv­ing his Bent­ley 19 miles over the limit in a 40mph zone.

Beck­ham said, “I am very re­lieved and very happy with my le­gal team.” Luck­ily, he was able to af­ford the ser­vices of Nick Free­man, the lawyer known as “Mr Loop­hole” (he’s trade­marked the tag), who spe­cialises in help­ing rich and fa­mous clients ex­ploit our le­gal sys­tem to min­imise any driv­ing con­vic­tions.

In this case, mr loop hole demon­strated that Beck­ham (hav­ing been pho­tographed speed­ing on 23 jan­uary 2018) did not re­ceive the no­tice of in­ten­tion to pros­e­cute within the statu­tory time pe­riod of 14 days – even though it was sent by irst class mail on Fe­bru­ary 2. An as­sis­tant at the ofice where the rented car was reg­is­tered said “she was 100 per cent conident” the penalty no­tice did not ar­rive un­til Fe­bru­ary 7. We have to ac­cept (as the judge did) that the let­ter did not ar­rive be­fore and get mis­laid on an un­tidy desk be­fore it was stamped as re­ceived.

At this point, you might think, “Lucky b ****** ” and, “Good luck to Beck­ham for be­ing able to af­ford Free­man” – af­ter all, no one likes get­ting a speed­ing ticket or be­ing pho­tographed on a cam­era you’ve failed to reg­is­ter. But there’s an­other is­sue, which might not play so well with Beck­ham’s mil­lions of fans: why should our widely re­spected le­gal sys­tem so bla­tantly favour the rich and fa­mous?

Free­man says he has done noth­ing wrong ex­cept use his ex­pen­sive skills to point out an anom­aly in the law. He says the blame could rest with the postal ser­vice, who failed to de­liver the let­ter on time. That might be true, but this was not a case of driv­ing just ive miles over the limit – it was 19. Some­one who drives like that is be­ing to­tally ar­ro­gant.

Free­man has rep­re­sented sport­ing ig­ures such as Sir Alex Fer­gu­son and An­drew Flintoff, and in 1999 he helped over­turn a driv­ing ban im­posed on Beck­ham by claim­ing he was speed­ing to avoid a pho­tog­ra­pher. When asked on Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme if he was act­ing in the spirit of the law, Free­man replied that he was sim­ply in­ter­pret­ing the cur­rent law, which stipulates that no one (rich or poor, by im­pli­ca­tion) can be pros­e­cuted if more than 14 days have elapsed since a let­ter of in­tent has been is­sued. Fair enough.

Bri­tish jus­tice does not work so well if you aren’t fa­mous or wealthy. On the other side of Lon­don, the vic­tims and fam­i­lies of those af­fected by the con­tam­i­nated blood scan­dal sit through har­row­ing ev­i­dence at the pub­lic in­quiry. Ear­lier this year, the cab­i­net ofice said that their le­gal fees would not be meanstested and would be paid in full. That has turned out to be a hol­low prom­ise. The le­gal irm rep­re­sent­ing 800 of the vic­tims and fam­i­lies says they have not been paid; in­stead, they have been told they will only re­ceive about 16 per cent of the fees claimed.

Nearly 2,800 peo­ple have died af­ter be­ing given blood con­tam­i­nated with HIV and hep­ati­tis in the Seven­ties and Eight­ies, and thou­sands more have had their health de­stroyed. It has taken a long and painful bat­tle by the sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies to get this in­quiry. I lost a friend, a tal­ented ar­chi­tect named Nick, who was given some of the con­tam­i­nated blood. Ear­lier this week, the gov­ern­ment made an un­equiv­o­cal apol­ogy for the scan­dal – but that’s too lit­tle, and in­sult­ingly late.

As for “jus­tice for all”, since the huge cuts in le­gal aid im­posed in 2013, or­di­nary peo­ple who ind them­selves in debt – through rent ar­rears, for in­stance, usu­ally be­cause they’ve lost a job or split up with a part­ner – of­ten have to con­duct their own de­fence, stum­bling through a mineield of jar­gon and in­com­pre­hen­si­ble pa­per­work.

Ear­lier this week, the Fi­nan­cial Times pub­lished a de­tailed sur­vey of the im­pact of the cuts im­posed on the jus­tice sys­tem in 2013 (cuts of 40 per cent). Le­gal aid has been cut from £2.5bn to £1.55bn, and al­though there is a fund for those in great­est need (es­ti­mated to cover about 5,000 to 7,000 cases a year), the pa­per­work is so con­vo­luted that only 954 peo­ple man­aged to ac­cess funds last year.

It stands to rea­son that if you are at the low­est in­come level, you may not pos­sess the skills to nav­i­gate le­gal aid pro­vi­sion. No doubt the pre­vi­ous sys­tem was abused, but who can say that it’s work­ing fairly for all now? Even Baroness Hale has said it might be a “false econ­omy” as many peo­ple sim­ply end up back in court, clog­ging up the le­gal sys­tem as they try to rep­re­sent them­selves.

Le­gal aid isn’t avail­able for whole cat­e­gories of of­fence, such as debt or hous­ing or di­vorce, un­less you are a vic­tim of do­mes­tic abuse. And even if you are acquitted of all charges, it is ex­tremely di­fi­cult to claim back your le­gal fees.

All of which David Beck­ham might like to pon­der as he en­joys Paris in the au­tumn sun­shine. I am not sug­gest­ing that le­gal aid be avail­able for driv­ing of­fences; I’m merely ob­serv­ing that if you are rich and fa­mous in the UK, it’s eas­ier to get jus­tice than if you are an unem­ployed plumber, kitchen porter or wait­ress who can’t pay their rent or heat­ing bills.

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